From The Edmonton Sun
Local Muslim association faces rumour campaign
By ANDREW HANON, Edmonton Sun
Last Updated: August 19, 2010 9:16pm
- Issam Saleh, chairman of the Muslim Association of Canada’s Edmonton chapter, sits in a prayer room at the Rahma Mosque on Thursday. (AMBER BRACKEN/EDMONTON SUN)
A letter to the editor in a west-end newspaper suggesting a local Muslim association has ties to extremists could be the final straw in an increasingly shrill campaign against a proposed Islamic school in Lessard.
The chairman of the Muslim Association of Canada’s Edmonton chapter says the organization is considering suing a tiny handful of “people exhibiting Islamophobia” who are spreading distortions and outright falsehoods about the organization.
“Very much so,” said Issam Saleh. “Our lawyers are compiling a case and we’re considering legal action.”
He said last month an opponent of MAC’s plan told the media that the group might be funding terrorism.
MAC plans to turn a vacant, run-down strip mall in the tony west end neighbourhood into a mosque, community centre and Islamic primary school.
Saleh says that while most of the neighbours have welcomed them – especially the four churches and two synagogues in the area – a small group is “promoting misconceptions” to turn public support against them.
In this month’s issue of the West End News, a letter to the editor signed only by “concerned residents of Lessard/Gariepy Community” warns of “MAC’s affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood.”
The Muslim Brotherhood is a political group, who calls for an Islamic political and social system and opposes western political and cultural influences,” the letter says. “Given the above, we would like to know what the new centre will be preaching.”
Safwat Girgis, vice president of the Lessard Community League and one of the people behind the letter, said he and his group were initially opposed to MAC’s plan because they feared it would bring too much traffic to the area and cause parking problems.
But when they discovered its “ties” to the Muslim Brotherhood, “it added a different dimension.”
The brotherhood “has a bit more of a radical view of Islam,” he said, “and that’s something to be concerned about.”
But Saleh calls that a complete distortion.
MAC’s national website says it traces its roots to “the Islamic revival of the early 20th century, culminating in the movement of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
” What that means, he said, is that they follow the spiritual teachings of Imam Hassan al-Banna, who taught his followers such virtues as understanding, perseverance, personal sacrifice, and service to the whole community.
In some parts of the Islamic world, the brotherhood became politicized, but that’s not the case here in Canada.
“We get no funds from overseas, and we don’t send any funds out of the country,” Saleh said. “We want to be part of the social fabric of Canadian society. We want to integrate.”
One of MAC’s biggest programs is the Educational Muslim Achievement Awards Night, where students are honoured for their success. This year 280 local Muslim students from elementary school to university were given trophies and scholarships.
“This is what we’re trying to do in the community, things like promoting education,” said Saleh.
MAC has applied to the city to rezone part of its building for a school. He said they plan to begin with a preschool and slowly work up to Grade 3.
The organization eventually wants to have a K-9 school somewhere in the west end, but not at that location, he said.
“They’re using scare tactics, (suggesting links to) terrorism and things like that,” he said. “On the basis of goodwill and building the community, we haven’t responded in a legal way to this, but they’re pushing it to the point that we have no choice but to respond by taking legal action.”
Note from Eeyore: Please observe picture taken from MAC’s website. I took a screen shot before it goes down the memory hole.